As a species, we are storytellers. To varying degrees we relate to each other, to history and to the rest of our universe through stories. The imagination of a child is sparked to converse in fantabulous make-believe. We read stories to our kids to help them make sense of life. Movies tell us stories of things we can not personally witness. When we meet someone new the conversation is stories of who you are, who you know in common, where you came from – all stories shared to create bridges of connections.
Dinner at the farmhouse the other night was a casual Chicken Pad Thai and salad with a guest. Margo has known Elise since she first moved to the area and hence had known Gunther and the farm intimately for many eons. We sat on the porch, surrounded by Elise’s gardens and the green fields dotted with cows. I listened to Elise and Margo tell stories. The main course brought questions about my life in Asia. I told stories.
Later I was thinking of my Father when he was as close to death as Gunther is now. Always one to lead a lively repartee, my dad was a master storyteller. Yet when he reached this point, the stories stopped. He might ask a question to get the stories started, but he stopped telling his. Gunther sat quietly listening to tales he starred in, and stories he had never heard from me. Unlike most, he never smiled and interjected, “Oh that reminds me…” or “Do you remember…?”
In the first year I took care of him, Gunther would sometimes sing me a German opera about a girl named Martha though he said Marta was the correct pronunciation. In the early days, our longest conversations were just before his nap as he reclined in his favorite chair and explained the artwork in his bedroom. The chair holds a laundry basket these now and our conversations are mostly one-sided.
I don’t feel he isn’t there; it is more that he is closing in to the quiet world of listening. More often than not, when he does initiate a conversation, it is in his native language – one I have little understanding of, as if his mind is working from the very core of who he is. I know he is hearing all that is being said because occasionally he catches my eye and furrows his brow in a comical look of mock irritation. There are volumes spoken in those eyes and brows.
Perhaps when the stories end, it is not because we no longer want to share of ourselves but rather we giving the ultimate gift, of listening.